Genesis 32:22-31 Matthew 14:13-21
Some of you will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say, “Guess what day it is. Guess… what day.. it is.” That is of course the famous talking camel from the insurance company commercial reminding his co-workers that it is “hump day”- Wednesday – the middle of the week. While many of us think of our days as markers of what we must do or endure, today’s scriptures remind me instead of something I read in an interview with Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, published in Inc. Magazine.
The article was about Bezos’ ability to maintain their culture as a “start up” company even as they grow and become more established as one of the biggest retailers in our country. In the article, he said that the basic idea is to remember that every day is “Day 1”, and every year he sends out the original letter that he sent to his stakeholders and employees that maps out a vision for who they’ll become. For them, it is always” Day 1” because that day is marked with urgency and with the need to establish themselves in different ways from competitors.
Not only that but “Day 2” is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And is why it is always Day 1. To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.”
While I think it is a slippery slope to compare our congregation to corporate models of success, and I have no idea of his faith or lack thereof, I think that does sound a bit like the idea of being reformed and always reforming. Those are the protestant watchwords that are supposed to keep us focused on the priorities of God, because every day is Day 1 for the church and for those who follow the way of Jesus. Every day is a day when we must make the choice between vitality and decline.
For Jacob, the precious nature of his present moment is very clear. You’ll remember that he tricked his father and his brother out of blessing and birthright. Then he ran for his life and had a vision of God’s active presence along the way. Then he went to live with his Uncle Laban, who tried treated him unfairly but ended up losing almost everything to Jacob. So now Jacob is on his way home – perhaps to claim that birthright of inheritance – and he has to get past his brother, whose last words were, “I’ll kill him.”
The report is that Esau is coming with 400 men. Jacob was obviously terrified. He broke his family and all his possessions into two groups, hoping one or the other might escape, and he sent them on ahead. He had to think. Maybe he thought Esau would spare them if he wasn’t with them. That seems to work in the movies. Maybe he was hiding behind human shields. We don’t know. What we do know is that he prayed the longest prayer recorded in Genesis, confessing his unworthiness and thanking God for every last little thing.
And God showed up and said, “You want a piece of me?” In what is probably one of the more bizarre encounters with God, Jacob wrestles with God through the night and is placed in a position of weakness and yet holds on and demands a blessing. He is given a new name as the one who wrestled with God and was not destroyed, but he does not walk away unchanged.
How often do we demand blessings of God? How often do we wrestle with God and even expect God to prove God’s self through results? Yet how often are we willing to accept the need to go forward with a new identity, a new purpose, a new understanding of who we are and what we do in the world, because it’s always Day 1 for those who follow Jesus?
The disciples found this out the hard way, as most of us usually do, when they responded to the needs of the crowd in a typical fashion. “Send them away, Jesus. Send them away before their hunger becomes our responsibility.” That’s the core of their concern for the people. The people chose to come out. Some came because they were ill or in order to bring others who were, but they came by their own choice. If they stay too long, well then, the disciples will feel responsible, having drawn a crowd late into the day.
Have you ever wondered what day it was for them? How could so many leave field and market to go listen to this man? The common question from those that do not go to what appear to be spontaneous mass events rings in my ears, “Don’t they have jobs?” The only time I’ve ever done anything like that has been in times that the march is convenient or the band was interesting.
We don’t know if it was the Sabbath or not, but the fact that they gathered baskets of broken pieces of bread and fish tells us not only about the abundance of God’s providence, but also that they valued it. No matter what day it was, because of God’s providence it became Day 1.
It became Day 1 because Jesus turned the question to the disciples and said, “Yes, you are responsible. You give them something to eat.” The disciples responded as we often do, “Lord, we just can’t. All we have is five loaves and a few fish.” Now, some will say that the miracle of this event was found in the sharing of a few things. The likelihood that no one had anything with them is pretty low, and the most miraculous thing that happened was the breaking of hearts in the breaking of bread.
That may be so, but I think there’s more to it than that. In both of these stories there is a movement that Roger Gen describes in Feasting on the Word as moving from separation to illumination to unification. In Moments of crisis we are forced to take a step back. As we look for solutions within and without we find that God is with us revealing the way, and that way unites us with one another in ways that restore and create new life.
And while conflict certainly brings it out, the reality is that every interaction with another soul holds the same possibility. H. Richard Niebuhr talked about these moments of encounters with others as opportunities for “self-transcendence” where there is always a third person in the conversation. That third person is God, who “does not come to rest until the total community of being is involved.”
In other words, every interaction is a chance to experience, express, and explore the love of God. It can be in the check-out line as easy as it can be at church, but it will not happen until we see their struggles and joys as ours and then turn them over to God.
That’s part of what we have been doing through the Presbyterian Disaster Response. It’s what we’re doing through the FoodNet food drive. It’s what students from the UL Soul Camp did yesterday as they did service projects around town and on our grounds, and yet I almost missed it. I almost missed the chance to talk and share stories and find out what motivated those students to trim hedges, pressure wash and weed around our shrubs.
It was because they understood what day it was. Do we? It’s Day 1 and there is another flood in New Orleans. It’s Day 1 and there are massive shifts in our government that impact the lives of the most vulnerable. It’s Day 1 and our police are in such a pressure cooker that they are becoming more reactionary while others become more defiant. It’s Day 1 and there are massive numbers of people without homes in our nation. It’s Day 1 and babies are being born into a world where there is violence and scarcity, because we have not looked to God for the abundance of God’s grace and mercy and love.
Yes, here in this place, it is Day 1, and this table has been set so that we can start with the blessing that sets us apart. We are not set apart as better than. We are set apart as the ones who create value in a new way – through placing what we see as scarcity into the hands of the One who shows us abundance!
Here we purge the brokenness that separates us from God and one another through the breaking of the bread. Here we see in a new light what God has done. Here we are united through the generosity of God’s heart with all those that are not in this place and are yet yearning for God’s grace.
And tomorrow will be Day 1. And we’ll do it again, in a new way, in a new place, with a new person and a new face – always and only to God’s glory. As we lift what we think will never be enough up to God, let us be willing to be transformed by the blessing we receive – even if we walk away limping. Amen.